Friday 9 July 2010

Cantina Laredo

I suppose at some point you have to put your money where your mouth is. When I first heard about US-import Cantina Laredo, a new 'gourmet' Mexican restaurant opening in Covent Garden, I grimaced and guffawed at the prices. Seriously? £6.95 for a guacamole? Sure, it’s made table-side but at those prices I would expect a hot half-naked Mexican waiter to serve it to me whilst serenading the table on one knee, and preparing it at the same time. Ok, perhaps that would be a bit embarrassing, but you get the point.

Many twitter discussions to this end – “£12 for a FUCKING CRANBERRY SALAD????” - were picked up on by Cantina Laredo’s omnipresent PR team and I was duly invited for a meal there. It’s not somewhere I would ever go myself as those prices are just too prohibitive, but my theory is that you shouldn’t slag something off without having tried it. I asked if I could go anonymously, and aside from the team there knowing someone would at some point in the week, they agreed. So I hope this experience (I cringe at the word ‘review’) is somewhat more impartial.

Now, first thing’s first. Tequila and I don’t get on. Even the smell makes me retch and if someone mistakenly buys me a shot of it instead of the marginally more bearable sambucca, I have to hold my nose. I’m a determined drunkard. So determined in fact, that I still tried the margarita. A bucket of the stuff, lined with a heavy salt rim, straw poking stiffly out of its frozen contents, was drinkable. Sweet, citrussy and with only a hint of tequila, it was quaffable.

Obviously we had to have the guacamole. Sadly our waiter was conservatively dressed and he duly chopped, mashed and slung stuff into a bowl. With some tortilla chips and some lovely fiery salsas, it tasted alright – I’d have preferred some chilli but our server said the green peppers were jalepenos. They were the least spicy jalapenos I’ve ever tasted. We used our lime wedges hanging off the rim of our margaritas to pep it up a bit.

Starters of that infamous cranberry and pecan salad, and a ceviche (£8) turned up. The salad was an enormous bowl of greenery punctuated by dried cranberries and nuggets of pecan. Mouthful after mouthful of leaves were cloying; there wasn’t nearly enough blue cheese to balance out the overwhelming sweetness of it all. What’s Mexican about it? I’ve never visited the country so I haven’t a clue. Unfinished, it was pushed to one side. The ceviche was fine. That’s all; fine. Chunks of fish, parts of cooked prawns nestled in capers, olives and red onion. It lacked any kind of freshness or zippy zing that I associate with the dish.

On to the main courses, and we wanted to try the mole. Only on the menu with one dish, chicken enchiladas, our server tried to steer us away from it. “It’s very traditional Mexican”. I thought that was the point. Unrelenting, we ordered it. What a mistake we made. Upon its arrival at the table, I was reminded of a dessert. Smothered with a dark, almost-but-not-quite shiny sauce, anaemic sesame seeds were scattered on top. One dimensional in flavour, the sauce was vaguely chocolatey, with some sort of spice added to it. There was no hint of smoke or fruitiness, no complexity of flavour. The tough corn tortillas were sawed away to reveal chicken that was drier than a camel’s hoof. I stuffed my half down my face before gratefully swapping plates with my companion. My tastebuds wondered what on earth they’d done to deserve this.

Her dish, prawns with a cheese sauce was heaven in comparison. Well cooked prawns, spicy, cheesy dip and a ghastly lettuce and carrot salad that had chunks of mango in it. All 6 of ‘em for a whopping £16. Meanwhile, I looked up to find a face screwed up in horror. “This is the worst thing I’ve ever eaten in this country”. The chicken mole was left unfinished. I felt hard done by - I’d finished my half of it, dammit.

We were too disturbed and stuffed to contemplate dessert. We gazed at each other, agape in the incredulity of how unpalatable it was. The overwhelming feeling I got from it all was that it was all so damn sweet. Our bill, before we piped up and ‘revealed’ ourselves, was an arse-twitchingly expensive £100, 12.5% of which was a deserved service charge. Our waiter was charming, engaging and personable; we had a good amount of banter. Unfortunately, this was the only good thing to be found at Cantina Laredo.

Cantina Laredo

10 Upper St Martin's Lane
St Martin's Courtyard

Tel: 0207 420 0630

Cantina Laredo on Urbanspoon


Chris Pople said...

Jesus. At least my meal was dull and expensive - that looks abjectly awful. £12 for that bowl of rabbit food - they should be ashamed of themselves.

BribedwithFood said...

I had read somewhere else about the bad "mole" and managed to steer clear when we went the other day, but if it makes you feel any better the chicken in my enchiladas "Veracruz" (still trying to understand what was Veracruz about them) was as tumble weed in the US desert.

Harsh, man, harsh.

Fillyerboots said...

I'm not a great fan of Mexican food, but this looks like a torture; especially at those prices.

Ollie said...

Loathsome place. Everything - except possibly that ridiculously priced guacamole - looks utterly revolting.

Northern Snippet said...

It all looks like the type of food you'd get in a food court at shopping centre(next to a cinema.Why is it so expensive????

Anonymous said...

Good God that looks awful. (Northern Snippet, spot on observation!) The negative reviews are stacking up for this place...


Unknown said...

Oh lordy - it really is as dreadful as the twitterati thought it would be! Just to reassure you about that salad Lizzie, as one who has been fortunate enough to travel (and eat) extensively in Mexico, there ain't *nothin'* Mexican about it. NOTHING. Certainly not the price, for which you could enjoy three substantial courses in, say, Guadalajara.

For completely (and unashamedly) inauthentic but thoroughly delicious and cheap Mexican, I can't sing the praises of Clapham's Cafe Sol highly enough:

May said...

Maybe they heard that Londoners were not very discerning diners and if they get plied with enough booze, the shit food is forgiven...?

Not going be around for long at this rate. Might morph into Stringfellows part 2 soon.

Niamh said...

OUCH! That does sound pretty dreadful.

Although I appreciate that you wanted to, isn't it impossible to review anonymously if you have your twitter image on your profile? I know I do too, but if they know you're coming, they just need to print it out and stick it in the kitchen surely. Perhaps it could have been worse! ;)

Unknown said...

Wow. I would love to know who did the market research for this place.

As long as Wahaca is just around the corner, I can't see how this place will survive...

Hollow Legs said...

Chris - I made a point to choose different dishes to you. I wish I hadn't now.

BribedwithFood - That chicken! I mean, really. Bleurgh.

Fillyerboots - It was rather torturous.

Ollie - I take it you won't be visiting...?

Northern Snippet - I asked myself that repeatedly.

Roast potato - It tasted as bad as it looked.

Hugh - I suspected as much with the salad! seemed very American to me. I must check out Cafe Sol.

May - Well then they'd be very wrong if they thought that.

Niamh - Not really. I am wearing an enormous pair of sunglasses in my twitter profile, and when I told them i was reviewing it they looked genuinely surprised and had to call their manager over to verify that it was the case. So I'm sure I was served the same shit everyone else was.

Helen said...

I stand by my quote. One of the worst things I've ever eaten, that turd - sorry that mole er, thing. Christ what was it again?

George@CulinaryTravels said...

Good God Lizzie that looked terrible. I won't be dashing to eat there in a hurry. Such a shame.

miss south said...

I feel defiled just looking at that mole...thank you for trying it so no one else need suffer in vain.

This foods makes me think fondly about an Old El Paso dinner kit...

gourmet traveller said...

Thanks for saving my stomach from those monstrosities (that enchilada looks absolutely vile!) - I'll be staying well away.

Mr Noodles said...

I can't think of any other way of putting it so apologies for my potty mouth but that chicken looks like shit. Quite literally. It looks like someone has sprinkled sesame seeds on a dog turd.

I know we shouldn't expect too much from Mexcian food in the UK but given the prices, you'd think they'd come up with something better. Mind you, given its location, they'll get lots of passing trade.

An American in London said...

Wow, that mole looks and sounds pretty awful. I've yet to find a good one in London, though ages ago, the version at Green & Red wasn't half bad.

I took a cooking class in Oaxaca, Mexico where we learned to prepare several different kinds of mole, and the chocolate-based one is supposed to be rich and complex, rather than dark, sugary and gloppy.

Anyway, Cantina Laredo is also pushing some freebie alcohol-sodden night next Tuesday, which I'm now glad I declined. Kudos to their PR team, though - they're def doing their jobs (if you believe there's no such thing as bad publicity).

Mer said...

That looks horrid! Like a sausage covered in liquefied poop of someone with too much iron in their diet.

I want to try Mestizo for Mexican food, apparently it's excellent, including the mole:

P2 said...

I have no words for that mole!! It would have taken more than one cocktail for me to eat that! Yikes!

Greedy Diva said...

Hilarious Lizzie! Sounds ridiculously overpriced.

Gail said...

Seriously glad someone has both the iron stomach and fortitude to try these places first - and save the rest of us time and money. Really, sadly does sound horrendous. Ironic that they seem to have got the service right, which is where many restaurants with great food fall down.

gastrogeek said...

Oh dear. This sounds like utter vileness of the very worst order. That salad in particular sounds crashingly dull. Thanks for going so I never have to!

Hollow Legs said...

roasted - I've only been to Wahaca once, a couple of years ago. Looks like I should make a return visit.

Helen - It was a turd. WE ATE TURD.

George - Shame is one word... OUTRAGE is another.

Miss South - I am sorry to have defiled you in such a way.

Gourmet Traveller - Definitely stay away. Blargh!

Mr Noodles - Why shouldn't we expect too much from Mexican food?
The waiter asked us if we were off to a show afterwards. I'm sure the tourists is who they're targetting, the poor sods.

AAIL - Dark, suagry and gloopy is a perfect description. I will be interested to see the results of this freebie...

Mer - Mestizo does look interesting, thanks.

P2 - I am not quite sure how I managed it myself.

Greedy Diva - I'm just glad I didn't have to pay.

Gail - Horrendous is a perfect description. My stomach was unhappy with me afterwards.

Gastrogeek - That salad! £12! Jesus H.

I heart cupcakes said...

oh my god that mole looks exactly like something I scoop out of the litter tray! gross. My husband had mole at Wahaca and it was tasty and flavoursome - this looks very much like some mole we tried from the Cool Chile Co at slow food some time ago - was also inedible.
And how the hell can they charge that much for guacamole that doesn't even taste nice? And don't get me started on that salad - talk about overpriced.
You'd be better off going to Taco Bell I'd say!

Mr Noodles said...

What I actually wrote was that "we shouldn't expect too much from Mexican food in the UK" and I stand by that.

IMO, the reason why we shouldn't expect too much from Mexican food in the UK is that there aren't enough Mexicans here. I hope that clarifies my POV.

Tom said...

Haha - I have to say every now and then it is great to read an absolutely terrible review of a restaurant. Praise is all well and good but (and I am disappointed at myself) that sometimes the most enjoyment comes from reading a thorough thumping.

Shame you had to eat it though.

JRC said...
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JRC said...
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K.E.S. said...

I chanced across your account of this meal via Food Stories' 'worst meal of 2010', and got angry just reading about it, never mind eating it. The restaurant is still in business, so I'm going to chip in about that travesty masquerading as a marguerita. To start with, they overdid it with the salt on the glass rim -- it should deliver a bit of a nip, not a Saxa-size punch in the mouth. Then my main complaint: the drink was the wrong colour. Real lime juice is green whereas this looks off-white, which indicates that it was pre-mixed mass-produced ersatz cocktail stuff served from out of a plastic container stashed somewhere under the bar. The owners should be ashamed of themselves.

S said...

oh my god. so gross, Lizzie. x shayma

JRC said...

I've been asked by Cantina Laerdo to remove all post i have made about them.
So please can you take down my comment.


Unknown said...

Agree re: the mole at Cantina Laredo although I have had a good meal there before (if not very expensive)! If you want to try a really good mole at home, you should order online / stop by the stand at Borough Market for Cool Chile Co ( Their mole paste makes enchiladas so easy, and it's been a constant in my pantry since moving here from the US. Love your blog!